Should pictures of Jesus be used for Christian education...

On pictorial representations of Christ used for instructional purposes, here's a helpful paper from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church's web site.

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Dear Tim:

Thanks to you and David for posting this link.

I frequently talk with my students about this issue and they are always curious. Most of them probably just think I'm crazy since there are pictures of Christ everywhere over here. But some want more information and so I'm always looking for good presentations.

Before we leave, I'll pass on this link to a sharp student from Cameroon.

"God has not conveyed the truth to us through pictures but through words. Conceptualization does not require visualization. We may understand aspects of a scene without visualizing it. We may know that Christ is truly man without imagining what he looks like."

In fact, God has conveyed the Truth (and the Way and the Life, for good measure ... so He reports) to us ... not through pictures, and not through words, but by the Incarnate Word. At some point, the reality of the conceptualization of God in the flesh required a visualization. Lexical scratchings alone will not shed blood for our sins. I suppose Mary Magdalene, that glorious Resurrection morn, could indeed have "conceptualized" Jesus as risen; and why not, the Jesus Seminar does so with great facility, too. That bunch conceptualizes Jesus into a spirit or shared delusion.

But I think it helped Mary to visualize; indeed, recognition plays a prominent role at a small room in Emmaus, as well as in the Garden of the Arimathean.

One can know one's wife is truly woman, but let's not deny that the senses turn the synaptic firings into something alive. A visualization helps things along, I think. Perhaps that is why the brain's "grandmother neuron," created by the Triune God, fires repetitively at the image ... not the concept ... of your grandmother. Maybe there's meaning, there.

See, it was not Pilate's words on a piece of parchment that saved us, by a hanging on a cross; but by the witnessed hanging of an actual Body. The Incarnation fulfills the Law. It's a new world, turned upside down by God breaking into our sensate dimension, and His sensible followers.

Speaking of Law, or rather law and maybe a city ordinance or two: I presume that the OPC has as few difficulties with an creche emptied of babe, as it might have with an empty town-square altogether, at the Christmastide.

>See, it was not Pilate's words on a piece of parchment that saved us, by a hanging on a cross; but by the witnessed hanging of an actual Body.

Conveyed to us through God's word, not God's photo album.

...conveyed to US, who were not alive then, through words and not pictures, since photography was not yet invented. What's your point? That obvious observation doesn't undermine anything Michael just said.

>...conveyed to US, who were not alive then, through words and not pictures, since photography was not yet invented. What's your point? That obvious observation doesn't undermine anything Michael just said

Then substitute drawings, patings, etc.

The point being that words were chose as the means to communicate.

David,

There is nothing remarkable about words being used to communicate the facts of Jesus' life and our redemption. ALL communication is done via words. Even when pictures are available, they still need to be accompanied by text in order to communicate properly. They're just an aid.

You're still failing to engage Michael's critique. God revealed Himself to us in flesh as well as in spoken and written words.

"ALL communication is done via words"

Well, not all direct interpersonal communication, but the kind that we're talking about must at least be accompanied by words.

Sorry, I try to stay out of the really really deeply intellectual debates that go on here, but maybe you guys need a slap of simple:

The revelation of God in the Flesh was done in flesh, not pictures.

When Mary saw Jesus in the garden, it was Jesus she saw and not a representation of Him. When the disciples saw Him on the road to Emmaus and ate with Him there, it wasn't His image that revealed His identity to them, in fact they didn't recognize Him at all until He chose to be recognized, but still, it was He Himself and not a visual aid or image or picture or any other representation of Him. It was Him, in the flesh.

It was His body that hung on the cross, not a picture of Him (please).

God's revelation of Himself in the flesh does not in any way violate one jot or tittle of His law.

Rachel

Rachel,

"It was His body that hung on the cross, not a picture of Him (please)."

No one has suggested otherwise. We're just pointing out that God has revealed Himself visually as well as conceptually.

"God's revelation of Himself in the flesh does not in any way violate one jot or tittle of His law."

Of course it doesn't. Who said it did?

Eric,

Michael's point above, if I read it correctly, is that since God revealed Himself in a body which was visible and was nailed to the cross, we are then free to use visual representations of Christ in worship.

If you follow that logic, we are saying, "Hey, God, you got visual first, so that not making or bowing down to images thing is null and void as long as it's an image of You." In other words, "I put the gold in the fire and out came this calf!"

I think I am going to have to bow out of this discussion in subjection to His Word:

2 Timothy 2:23
Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.

Titus 3:9
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.

Will cling to your images because you think you can make God's Word fit your idea of what is right, without so much as trembling?

Rachel

Eric and Michael,

I think that you are dismissing Rachel's point too quickly. Christ in the flesh was a full representation of Himself, not a picture. The argument that I have seen made time and again in this debate is there is no way that a pictoral representation of Christ can capture all that Christ is. Just as a picture of you, Eric, does not capture you and is not a faithful presentation of Eric Phillips. It might be faithful of the way that you look, but it is not you.

Now this (I believe, and here is where I might disagree with David) is not a big deal when it is Eric Phillips or Doug Ummel, but when it is the Lord of the universe, we better watch out. To not faithfully depict God is sin. There is no way that a picture can show His power and might as well as His tenderness and love no matter how good the artistry.

I think that it is worth mentioning here as well that we should not think it an accident that Christ became incarnate in a time that did not have video recorders and photographs. There is no "recording" of His image.

Rachel,

I believe you are correctly following Michael's logic, which is, incidentally, the traditional Christian position on the matter, as enunciated by St. John of Damascus and the 7th Ecumenical Council.

The argument is not, "Hey, God got visual first!" The argument is, when God gave the 10 Commandments, He banned all attempts to picture Him because He cannot be pictured. The divine nature cannot be circumscribed; therefore it follows that anyone who makes an image and says, "I have drawn God," has really drawn an idol: i.e. something that does not depict God (because if it were, he could not have drawn it) but nevertheless claims to.

But then "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory." God the Son assumed a human nature. The divine nature cannot suffer, cannot die, cannot be circumscribed. The human nature CAN suffer, CAN die, and CAN be circumscribed. God CAN now be depicted, in the Person of the Son. In fact, to depict Him is to confess the wonder of the incarnation, because we are doing the impossible, just as we did the impossible when we flogged and slew Him.

The suggestion that this argument is equivalent to Aaron's incoherent sputtering, "I put the gold in the fire and out came this calf!" is ludicrous, you see.

Archie,

The differences between image and exemplar are, I think, well known to everyone. An image is not a substitute for the original, but a reminder that helps us recall it. I will add, though you haven't said it yet, that in the case of Jesus, we have no reason to think any or our representations bear even a passing resemblance to His features. If anyone publishes a picture of Christ and claims it to be divinely inspired (this does happen), and sets out to interpret the facial expression, the pose, the hair color, as if it were some graphical Scripture--I'll join you in condemning that nonsense.

Usually, though, it is understood that the picture is not mean to augment revelation, but only to express it. A crucifix says, "He emptied Himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross." A gentle depiction of Christ, in the Good Shepherd tradition perhaps, reminds us that the incarnate God was "meek and lowly of spirit," and "did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but took on Himself the form of a servant." A stern Christ icon, in the Pantocrator tradition, reminds us that the meekness is not the whole story, but that "[God] hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained." A nativity creche reminds us "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich," and that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." A Christ icon of any kind, down to the level of a flannel graph, says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

You say, "There is no way that a picture can show His power and might as well as His tenderness and love no matter how good the artistry." How do you know that? Are you assuming this because God's love and power are infinite, and the skill of the artist is not? Well, don't stop there; the human face is finite, too. If finite humanity has already incarnated the infinite God, there's no sense worrying that finite art can't depict the God-Man. The infinite God interacted with the world through a finite human face, and a finite face is not outside the reach of finite art. The divine nature is hidden in the human nature: that is the whole point of the incarnation. That is why we can see God, eat His flesh and drink His blood, and become part of His body. Anything ineffable, anything beyond circumscription, is proper to the Divine nature and by definition cannot be seen or understood by us. We see and understand the human nature instead. We touch God, and become partakers of the Divine nature, only through those weak, concrete, and fully circumscribable means.

Eric, you're very articulate, and I do appreciate your comments. But it seems that your last post has a whiff of Nestorianism about it--namely, that we can depict the human person of Christ and do so without concern that we are forbidden to depict his divine person. The error, of course, is that Christ is not two persons, but one person with two natures. The church has, since the Council of Ephesus, held that attempts to divide the person of Christ are errors. You may say that you are merely referring to the natures of Christ and not his person, but it is the body we see and the body is the expression of the person as well as the natures. If we say that we see only the nature or natures of Christ, but not his person, do we not approach the error of Nestorius?

Bill R.,

If I had said "that we can depict the human person of Christ and do so without concern that we are forbidden to depict his divine person," then yes, that would have been textbook Nestorianism--a two-person Christology. I did not say that, though. I spoke only of two _natures._

Also, I did not say, or even suggest, "that we see only the nature or natures of Christ, but not his person." To see the man Jesus is to see the Eternal Logos of the Father. To depict the man Jesus is to depict the Word, according to the humanity He assumed for us. I said that we can't see the Divine _nature_, not that we can't see _God_.

In the first of my two recent posts I wrote, "The human nature CAN suffer, CAN die, and CAN be circumscribed. God CAN now be depicted, in the Person of the Son." In the second, I wrote, "The divine nature is hidden in the human nature: that is the whole point of the incarnation. That is why we can see God, eat His flesh and drink His blood, and become part of His body."

So I don't understand what your concerns could be based on.

Actually, Eric, I think it is more accurate to speak of the human nature of Christ taken up into (and therefore hidden in) his divine nature. But in any event, images of the Lord cannot depict either nature truly since the natures are never alone: they are hypostatic.

Bill,

The natures are not mingled so as to lose their independent identity. That's the opposite error, Eutychianism. Images of the Lord can indeed depict His humanity, and in so doing they depict also the hypostasis of the Word.

As for saying that the human nature is "hidden in" the divine nature, I don't know what you could mean by it. "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." The incarnation makes God visible to us. God is hidden in His own nature, and "made manifest in the flesh."

Eric, I'll retract "(and therefore hidden in)"--I was playing off your preceding post--"The divine nature is hidden in the human nature." But I believe my point still stands, namely, that since an image depicts only Christ's humanity (which of course is all that it can do), it fails to represent him as he truly is. I do not fail to distinguish the natures, but if you met the Lord in person, you would be confronted with both of his natures. That's not the case with an image.

All we know about Jesus' physical appearance (from Isaiah 53) is that He wasn't strikingly handsome -- He looked normal. So none of this empty philosophizing about flesh vs. words means a thing, since none of you (or I) have any idea what Jesus looked like, and you (and I) won't know what He looks like until you (and I) see Him face to face.

So all pictorial representations of Jesus are highly likely to be falsifications of Him. All pictorial representations of Him are painted or drawn out of the void of complete ignorance.

All you know is that Jesus was a Jewish male biped. That's it. Considering how much Gentile blood Jesus had in Him, He could just as easily have looked like a Jerichoite (through Rahab) or a Moabite (through Ruth).

It would be great to get to heaven and discover that He is five foot seven, has a small, straight nose, reddish hair, and that during His earthly sojourn He lacked the tip on the second finger of His left hand due to an unfortunate carpentry accident when he was young.

In principle, all pictures of Jesus are falsehoods. Decades of VBS cover artists are already apologizing to Him for making stuff up about Him.

"since an image depicts only Christ's humanity (which of course is all that it can do), it fails to represent him as he truly is."

No. When an image depicts the humanity of Christ, IT DEPICTS GOD THE SON, because God the Son became a man for our salvation. To call it a false representation because it captures only one of the natures is 1) to call the incarnation a false representation also, for the same reason, and 2) to treat the human nature as if it were peripheral to, or crudely 50% of, the divine Person (both of which options leave you in the quandary of either denying Christ's true humanity like Eutyches or dividing Him into two persons like Nestorius). Whoever has seen the Son--who is visible only as flesh and blood--has seen not only the eternal Logos, but the Father Himself.

"if you met the Lord in person, you would be confronted with both of his natures."

He would still look simply like a man. He would be 100% depictable. It would be different in that we would be able to interact with each other, just like you can interact with me, but not with my picture, but that's neither here nor there in our discussion. I certainly haven't claimed that I can hold conversations with an icon of Christ.

Jack,

Pictures of Christ are not falsifications. If anyone tells you that the picture is divinely inspired and therefore looks exactly like Him, _that's_ the falsification. Don't blame it on the picture. Blame it on the ignoramus or false prophet who's making that claim. Pictures of Christ are icons--representations. And what they represent to the marginally well-educated Christian is not that Christ had this color skin, this color hair, or this color eyes, but that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Eric, thanks for this conversation. I truly appreciate it. Perhaps we've taken it as far as we can go in blog discussion. Since this isn't a debate, I'm happy to leave you with the last word. I'm not convinced that I am absolutely right, but on the other hand, your arguments have left me unconvinced as well. Here's why: your argument (it seems to me) requires us to conclude that the Second Commandment has been rendered void at least as to images of God the Son following the Incarnation. Scripture does not tell us that this is so, but we must infer this from the very nature of the Incarnation. In fact (as Jack Brooks points out) we do not know what Jesus of Nazareth looked like in his days upon the earth, but we may imagine him as we like, provided that we all agree to think of such an image as that of the Lord. In doing so, we give honor to the Incarnation. Perhaps. But on the other hand, we have no description of the Lord Jesus in Scripture; we know of no reference in Scripture to the apostolic church utilizing an image of Christ in worship; and we know that at least in the pre-Constantinian church there was no consensus as to whether such an image violated the Second Commandment. "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void." Lk 16:17. The Second Commandment is not ceremonial law. Should we not hesitate to assume that as to God the Son the Second Commandment is now void when we have not been told so expressly?

Finally, if an image may truly depict God the Son, may we then worship that image? If it is a true depiction, why not? And if not, are you not using the term "true" equivocally?

Eric:

If a VBS child asks you, "Is this really what Jesus looked like?", you must answer, "I don't know; honestly, we just made this whole picture up out of our heads." What a rotten answer to give a child; why should she believe you about other things?

Needing pictures is like the icon-worshiping Roman mindset, baffled by the fact that when they invaded the Holy of Holies, it was an empty room.

Jack,

Yeah, that would be a bad answer. But you _framed_ it to be a bad answer, so no surprises there.

My Sunday School teachers always told me it was "an artist's conception," whether I was asking about Jesus, Moses, or Goliath. It's not a hard concept even for children.

Bill R.,

You say, "your argument (it seems to me) requires us to conclude that the Second Commandment has been rendered void at least as to images of God the Son following the Incarnation."

Think about that. If depictions of the incarnate Son are the only exception, then you're over-reacting significantly when you say the commandment has been "rendered void." It hasn't been voided at all.

You ask, "Finally, if an image may truly depict God the Son, may we then worship that image?"

Worship the image? No, that makes no sense. "Eyes have they, but they see not," and all that. We worship not the depiction, but the One depicted.

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